Richmond seems to be experiencing a rise in home invasions and robberies, including one early this morning that happened within shouting distance from where I've lived for 5 years. It could be the case that the increase is just a matter of perception (because more are being reported and then covered by the media), but the facts seem to bear out some sort of trend, and possibly a serial home invader at work.
It's hard to know what to think about this trend.
It could be the work of a very disturbed individual, but the related rash of business robberies would seem to point to some larger phenomenon. In tough economic times, it's normal for some individuals who were already at the edge of being able to survive to take new approaches, including crime. I don't think there's a direct economic motivation to invade someone's home and assault them if you could "only" rob them instead, but if this is a general breakdown of some social contracts that we have with each other not to go ape-shit just because we can, that too could be tied back to tough economic times.
It's also hard to balance empathizing with the victims and experiencing the fear that hearing about these incidents creates with trying to still see the larger picture that these are isolated acts in an otherwise generally safe city. But as we've seen with various national and local crises (e.g. "The D.C. Sniper", school shootings, etc.) it only takes one very vivid imagining of "that could have been me!" to cause us to change our behavior.
The police say that they're working on this, and we have to take their word for it. It would be helpful if someone could offer a significant financial reward for information leading to the capture of anyone involved in the home invasions; if economics is a motivating force, then you can play along by offering an even stronger version of that motivating force. But none of that will change the fact that there are people living among us who feel they can or need to commit robbery, sexual assault, or worse - this is a deeper problem that no police force can systematically address.
So, how does a community address this particular kind of trend? Is it about community policing and neighborhood watches and more funding for law enforcement?
Or does it involve more interpersonal accountability, healthier families and neighborhoods, cultural shifts away from objectification of women, examining the media messages we consume and what they encourage, better education, and new models for how individuals can be valued and make a living?
I suspect that elements of all of the above are important, but all of them take time, and that won't help anyone sleep any better tonight.